There's a cliche in Hollywood you hear from producers of zTC gag-filled, double-entendre comedies, or shoot-'em-up, high-body-count action adventures: They solemnly declare their shows are really about relationships.
Well, Sunday night's NBC movie "In the Line of Duty: A Cop for the Killing" is an action-adventure film that really is about relationships.
Nearly as good as the last movie Dick Lowry directed under the "In the Line of Duty" title -- 1988's chilling "The FBI Murders" about a shootout that actually happened in Miami -- "A Cop for the Killing" stars James Farentino as Lt. Ray Wiltern, the paternalistic head of group of narcotics officers.
The film, which will be on Channel 2 (WMAR) Sunday at 9 p.m., examines what happens to that group after one of its members is brutally killed in front of their eyes as a set-up drug deal goes sour.
Charles Haid, who was involved as a co-producer, plays Tommy Quinn, the doomed cop, as the biggest cowboy of the lot, a family man who still came to his job with an all-out attitude that infected this co-ed fraternity.
"A Cop for the Killing" is, however, marred by some clunky plotting and a lack of subtlety that too often borders on cliche.
Though slowed by the woefully miscast Susan Walters as the woman of the group, "A Cop for the Killing" still contains some exceptional scenes, none better than the one that results in the killing, as you join the cops in examining each detail of the ever-changing scene, trying to separate the significant from the quotidian.
And, after the murder, the way in which the violent removal of one member effects the relationships of the entire unit elevates this above the cop-action genre -- its lessons can apply to the group dynamics in any situation, from a family to a football team.
Top-notch dramatic scenes result, particularly at Quinn's funeral, when, for one reason or another, none of his colleagues manage to stay to its end.
The reach of "A Cop for the Killing" exceeds its grasp, but having such a lofty ambition, even if it is not fully realized, makes this a well-above-average television movie.
"In the Line of Duty: A Cop for the Killing"
*** The death of an officer in a tight-knit narcotics squad has ramifications that resonate on many levels, personal and professional.
CAST: James Farentino, Steven Weber
TIME: Sunday at 9 p.m.
CHANNEL: NBC Channel 2 (WMAR)